Dedicated to the conservation, protection and care of otters
Adopt : Donate : Donate Monthly : Ottershop : Join our mailing list

Our work

Mission and Vision

Current Projects

Past Projects




International Workshops

Illegal Trade

Otter and Wetland Conservation in Europe

The Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra) is classed as “Near Threatened” in the IUCN Red Data List, which means it is near to facing a high risk of extinction in the wild. The otter was once widespread throughout the UK and Europe, but several factors caused a major decline in the 1950s/1960s. The main cause was pollution from pesticides (organochlorines) which accumulated in their tissue. Since these chemicals were banned numbers have been recovering slowly. In spite of what we read in the media, the recovery is slow as otters do not breed quickly.

Many otters die on roads and events like flooding can have a serious effect. Of course they swim, but they are semi-aquatic and need to come on to land, and small cubs are very vulnerable.

Funds are needed for:

  • Community Education and Outreach
  • Student Research Grant
  • Otter Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre
  • Research and Monitoring


The biggest problem facing otters in the UK and worldwide, is LACK OF AWARENESS. We must engage with the public to show the importance of otters – otter conservation is not a sentimental luxury as a healthy otter population indicates a healthy environment for all species, including man. We need to dispel myths that are causing otters to be intentionally disturbed, persecuted and killed. Otters are not the cause of declining fish populations and by conserving otters we protect all wetland biodiversity.

TEAM OTTER is IOSF’s education programme focused on children. The programme is aimed at reconnecting children with nature, wildlife and the environment and igniting a passion that will last their whole life. A recent study found that people who have access to nature act in a more sustainable and environmental way than those who are not, or are less, exposed to it. A lack of knowledge leads to a lack of interest.

The programme uses otters as a mascot and an ambassador to a healthy environment but also teaches children about other species, wetland habitats and environmental conservation. The children can join Team Otter clubs and meet regularly to continue learning and also network with other clubs from around the world. This allows them to feel part of a growing number of children and young people that want to make a difference. Association with the club will ensure a passion and a sense of duty to helping the natural world in the future and ensure that our future decision makers have the right knowledge to help the environment moving forward.

Currently there are two clubs in Scotland, seven in Montenegro and also clubs in Asia and South America. More clubs are planned including in various parts of Africa.

We need more education material, particularly for young people. Children learn most easily when they are having fun and the use of games is a great educational tool. IOSF produced a children’s education pack “Let’s talk about otters” which includes information with indoor and outdoor games, puzzles, etc. However, nowadays children use interactive material on computers to learn many subjects in school and in the home.

Our website designer has produced many educational interactive games on various subjects and is very keen to help us develop new up-to-date material to educate, inform and encourage the protection and conservation of otters and our environment. We now have an interactive map on the website showing which species of otter lives where with a click through to further information.

We also have an online game called “Otter Madness” which shows the children how difficult it is to be an otter and the various threats.

Team Otter has a website and Facebook page which regularly features quizzes, competitions, and news of the clubs.

We have also been developing a programme of visits to schools in rural parts of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, where educational visits are rare. Schools we have visited so far include the Small Isles (Eigg, Muck and Rum) Arisaig and Gairloch,

Funds are needed for new educational material, visits and support for Team Otter Clubs.



Dissertations involving field survey techniques for otters are clearly not covered in normal university courses and so IOSF intends to provide sponsorship to help and encourage young students into field research on otters and their ecology.

The IOSF Student Research Grant will help a student carry out an otter field survey under the guidance of a trained ecological surveyor. Andrew Rothwell has carried out many ecological surveys, especially for otters, including the National Otter Surveys of England. He is willing to give his time for free and would undertake a field survey to provide training in the various techniques involved, including post-survey work such as diet analysis. This would form the basis of the dissertation for their degree and would hopefully lead to more ecological work in the future.

It is vital that local communities engage with their environment, so during the student will help to develop capacity building in the area. This will encourage people to set up their own Otter Group to continue monitoring THEIR otter populations and give a sense of responsibility for otters and their local environment.

The first project would be a repeat of the Isle of Barra survey, which was done by IOSF in 2000, to see if there have been any changes to populations.

Future surveys could compare coastal and freshwater areas in terms of habitat use and diet, and comparison of rivers in England, Scotland and Wales.

The grant will cover all the student’s expenses to a maximum of £1,000 upon provision of receipts and funding for this part has been received. However, IOSF will also need to cover the living expenses of the instructor.

The impact of this project is long-lasting and two-fold:

On the Student: By helping to train the student in otter ecology so that they can carry out the repeat Barra survey, they will produce a meaningful piece of research for their dissertation. This experience will equip him/her to further a career in ecology, especially otter ecology in any area.

On the Barra Community: The local people will be more aware of their otters and by setting up a local Otter Group they can continue monitoring on the island and react quickly to any incident such as an orphaned otter.

Funds are needed to carry out this Barra study.



On Skye IOSF has specialist facilities for otters and to date we have cared for over 210 animals. These are mostly cubs which have somehow become separated from their mothers but we also treat injured juveniles and adults. Our aim is always to release back to the wild. On rare occasions this is not possible and so a permanent home in as natural an environment as possible will be provided for the rest of the animal’s life.

Congo clawless otter being treated in DRC

Our hospital treats 12-14 otters a year and the biggest cost is fish. Cubs stay with their mothers for 12-15 months so we have to release them at about the same age or they will not survive. This is why food bills are so high.

IOSF’s reputation in otter care has grown considerably and we are now regarded as world experts. We receive frequent requests for help and have helped with over 130 otters in 43 countries, including Portugal, Bulgaria, Finland, Canada, Iraq, Belize, Chile, Vietnam, Thailand, The Philippines, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Nigeria. We have also been asked to speak at conferences in Ireland, Holland, Indonesia and Taiwan.

Last year we built new outdoor facilities at our Skye sanctuary specially designed for older cubs and adults. However, our indoor facilities need work on the roof, floor and cub units.

Funds are needed to cover hospital costs including vet fees and fish.



In 2014 we began monitoring 15 coastal sections on the Isle of Skye in order to review the otter population research we undertook in 1999. There is a correlation between active otter holts and otter numbers and so each section is visited once to count the number of active holts. Although holt numbers increased in 2015 there was no significant difference from 2016 to 2019, suggesting that numbers have remained constant.

Camera trap monitoring at a site in south Skye has been ongoing since 2007 and has provided excellent photos and video footage. Such long-term research is useful not just for monitoring but also for other behavioural information, such as breeding patterns and changes in diet.

Analysis of the diet using spraint analysis also reveals that this has remained more or less the same although there does appear to be an increase in crab predation.

Funds are needed to continue this long-term monitoring.



OTTER is the annual scientific publication of IOSF. The publication aims to cover a broad spectrum of papers, reports and short contributions concerning all aspects of otter biology, behaviour, ecology and conservation. It also contains information on the work of IOSF and reports on our activities.

The Journal is available to download free on our website and a limited number of copies are printed for distribution to libraries, etc.

Funds are needed to cover preparation, design and printing.



The decline of the otter went largely undetected and the need for monitoring was not understood. Otters are a Schedule V species and there is now a duty under European legislation to monitor their health and status. This is done by post mortems analysis but it was not done in Scotland from the late 1990s until the start of 2014, when IOSF managed to get some seed funding. Such research is necessary to determine pollution levels and other potential threats not only to otters but to the environment as a whole. As otters live on land and in water they require both habitats to be of optimum quality, which is essential to all species including our own.

In 2013 researchers at Cardiff University found a new pollution threat from chemicals affecting the male reproductive organs of otters. In 2014 these nonylphenol chemicals were found in 20 rivers in Scotland. Cardiff also found that of the 110 otters aged only 10 were more than four years old and the oldest was only eight. Similar studies in the Czech Republic and Germany have found otters as old as 16 living in the wild. This is clearly very worrying as we don't know the reason, but without data we have no idea if this also is happening in Scotland.

The seed funding enabled IOSF to start a collaborative project with Cardiff University to obtain more data but further funds are needed to keep this vital project going.

Funds are needed to cover the cost of post mortems and toxicology analysis.